The Mace – January 2024

Message from the President January 2024 MACE

James V. Vitagliano
President, NAACO Board of Directors
Associate Dean of Enrollment Services/Registrar, MGH Institute of Health Professions

As we reflect on our many accomplishments in 2023 and contemplate what is ahead of us in 2024, I feel a sense of excitement when thinking about the great minds of NAACO gathering together in February to collaborate, share, and learn by “Inspiring Big Ideas” – this year’s conference theme. While together in Fort Worth, we will have the opportunity to gather as peers, share and build knowledge, catch up with colleagues, and embrace new ones. Take full advantage of everything that the conference has to offer and walk away not only being inspired but also being empowered. Last year, we launched our Virtual Pass which allows members the opportunity to watch recordings of education sessions regardless of their attendance at the conference and we are pleased to offer this option once again in 2024.

Our volunteer Conference Group, lead by president-elect Claudia Davila and assisted by our team at headquarters, includes the Communications, Education, and Membership Committees as well as our newly formed Event Experience Committee. These committee members have been hard at work creating a wonderful conference experience focusing on this year’s theme. A variety of educational sessions and keynote presentations will provide opportunities to learn from peers and industry experts. Networking opportunities within your region and roundtable discussions will also be available to expand your conference experience. The full schedule is now available to help you plan which sessions you want to attend. If you are attending with other colleagues from your institution, consider dividing up to take in as many sessions as possible. If you are pursuing the NAACO Certificate in Academic Ceremonies, make sure to review which sessions will count towards your completion requirements.

As NAACO continues to grow and thrive, it wouldn’t be possible without the support and partnership of our corporate sponsors. Take some time to visit our Corporate Showcase and attend our Commercial Corners and get to know them. Beyond the products and services that they offer, sponsors have immense experience that provides a tremendous resource to our members. Learn even more from them at the Opening Night Reception or over coffee on break.

If you are unable to attend this year’s conference, NAACO provides year-round educational and professional networking opportunities through Hot Topic Calls and regional meetings. These offer both seasoned professionals as well as those newer to the industry opportunities to gather, collaborate, and inspire new ideas and perspectives. NAACO Connect is also a very valuable resource which provides an online community for our members to connect, solicit feedback, and share expertise with colleagues.

A special thanks goes out to all of the volunteers who keep NAACO alive and vibrant. I look forward to sharing thanks with them and celebrating their contributions at our volunteer reception, scheduled for Sunday, February 11 in Fort Worth.

May your 2024 be filled with good health and exciting opportunities!

Join Us at the NAACO 2024 Annual Conference!

NAACO 2024 Events Experience Committee
Liz King, Chair
Natasha Binns
Heather Calkins
Claudia Gil
Joshua Green
Kristine McDonough

By the time this arrives in your inbox, we will be three short weeks away from the 2024 NAACO Conference in Fort Worth, TX! Your NAACO Board and committee volunteers are very much looking forward to Inspiring Big Ideas and seeing you February 12-14!

For those of you who have been waiting to register, now is the time – for up to date information about the schedule, hotel, registration and more, visit the NAACO website 

On the fence about registering or looking for more of the inside scoop on what to expect? Read on!

Grow your professional network – We’ve got Connections sessions, roundtables, social events, and sightseeing to provide opportunities for you to connect with others. Download WHOVA and make the most of our conference app – before, during and after our time in Fort Worth. Settle in during your stay in Fort Worth and meet new colleagues at one of our Meet & Eat dinners, an opportunity to check out local fare and stretch your legs near the hotel. Sign up soon to save your spot! Attend the opening reception wearing your favorite collegiate wear, and join us in your ‘longhorn chic’ at our Night Out at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to mix and mingle. Bring some swag (i.e. ‘something we all get’ like keychains, tshirts, stickers, etc.) and sample collateral (like programs and brochures) to share with others. Check in with your items at registration for more info.

NAACO goes green(er)!  – This year’s conference name tags are no waste tags – i.e. we’ll be going plastic-less! Come prepared with pockets or bags to tuck away those key cards, business cards, and more somewhere safe. We also encourage you to update your digital presence on social channels like LinkedIn to reduce the exchange of paper throughout the conference, and BYO tablet or laptop to take notes on instead of a notebook. Water is available throughout the conference, and water bottles and travel mugs are welcomed.

Support NAACO Cares – NAACO is proud to support the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through NAACO Cares at the 2024 annual conference in Fort Worth, TX. We are especially proud to be supporting The Modern Fund and their education programs and art camps for children and youth. The Modern, also the site of this year’s Night Out, strives to connect audiences of all ages and backgrounds with the most compelling art and ideas of our time. The Modern’s Summer Art Camp and Art Study, serving children aged 4 through 17, emphasizes learning through direct observation of art and thoughtful activities and provides youth the opportunity to work in a studio with artists each session. Watch for opportunities to support The Modern throughout the conference and in WHOVA.

Learn! – Of course we’re all ultimately attending to learn from the best and brightest in our industry! Read further on in the newsletter to find out what you’ll get out of our education sessions this year, and view the recording of our recent Hot Topic to learn more.

Still need convincing? Check out all of the great things Fort Worth and the local area have to offer! The Omni, our conference hotel, has recommendations on activities nearby, and Visit Fort Worth has several suggestions. You likely won’t want to miss a visit to the Stockyards, Billy Bob’s Texas, or Sundance Square. If you have some extra time to explore nearby Dallas, consider cheering on the Dallas Mavericks, brushing up on JFK history with a museum stop or tour, or a visit to the Reunion Tower for views of the city. Come prepared for sunshine or snow, pack layers, and check the local forecasts.

See you soon!

What You’ll Learn at the NAACO Annual Conference

Marcus Jones II
Director-at-Large, Education, NAACO Board of Directors
Chief of Staff & Protocol Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions,  Arizona State University

Patricia Nolin
Chair, NAACO Education Committee
Assistant Director of College Events and Engagement, Rhode Island College

On behalf of the Education Committee, we are pleased to serve as curators for the educational content that will take place at the NAACO Annual Conference in Fort Worth, Texas in February. We have worked with the conference committee to create a robust schedule of learning opportunities to give you the knowledge and skills to return to your campus and inspire big ideas. From our keynotes, concurrent sessions, roundtables, and panel sessions, we are sure you will have an engaging time.

On Monday, our opening keynote will focus on how the science of fun can bring benefits in our work life to help us feel more productive and be less stressed. During her keynote, Catherine Price will show how the connection between joy and fun offers tangible practices that we as event planners can bring into our daily lives. She asserts that we experience many moments of fun, but we don’t always consider or label them fun and through her presentation, she takes us on a journey to help us explore how to capitalize on more fun in the workplace.

In collaboration with the Membership Committee, we have curated a variety of topics for you to discuss during lunch and breakfast. These topics will have guiding questions to help spark conversation and discussion with your tablemates.

We will have 24 educational sessions presented over six different slots, where you will learn from your colleagues on topics that they are passionate about and on topics that our membership has suggested.

Some themes that emerged from our conference sessions are:

  • The student experience through commencement and convocations
  • Managing change and working with leadership at your university
  • Creating new experiences, traditions, and advancing ideas for your institutional stakeholders

The educational panels were popular, so they’re coming back! The goal of these panels is to provide a chance for you to learn from other members who do not have a formal presentation but still have exciting stories and strategies to share with our members.

Attendees can choose to attend one of the following:

  1. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, where we will explore the role and impact of DEIB in our ceremonies.
  2. Working with Administration, where we will discuss how we can work better with our administrators and leaders.
  3. Transitioning to Digital Programs, where we will learn how institutions moved from printed programs to a digital format or a combination of both.
  4. Celebrating Milestones, where we will learn how institutions have and are celebrating milestones at their universities, as well as the planning beyond and its impact.

Our closing keynote address will focus on the value of investing in the production of your event to create a cohesive experience for all students participating in the ceremony. Evan Schaefer will explain how standardization helped enhance the planning of ceremonies at ASU to create consistency for the students who participate in multiple ceremonies in a variety of venues.  Additionally, the elements discussed in his presentation can be adapted to any ceremony regardless of size.    

We hope that you will take part in the many opportunities offered and take time to catch up with colleagues, share an idea, meet new colleagues, and most importantly learn something new that you can confidently implement to enhance your ceremonies and the important work that we all do!

New 2 NAACO Meet & Greet

Date: Sunday, February 11
Time: 4 – 5 p.m. CST
Location: Texas Ballroom I, OMNI Fort Worth

Are you new to NAACO? New to your role at your institute? Or is this the first time you are attending the conference in person? Please join us on Sunday, February 11, for an informal gathering to meet other new members, to learn more about the value of NAACO from our Membership Committee team, and to get some excellent tips on how to get the most out of the conference. We can’t wait for your questions and we hope to see you soon!

Network and Dine with NAACO in Fort Worth!

Our pre-conference festivities include Meet and Eats for conference attendees who want to get out to dinner and meet new NAACO contacts. Reservations have been made at select restaurants, listed below, between 7:00 – 7:30 p.m. CST on Sunday, February 11. A Sign Up Genius will be made available for attendees to select and join the reservation. It’s suggested that big groups split up among reservations in order to network and as reservations are for 6-8 people, depending on the location. The cost of dinner is on the attendees in the party.

At the same time, NAACO is also offering a Super Bowl party at the Omni Fort Worth. This party will offer big game viewing, light snacks and a cash bar.

More details coming soon for those who have registered for the NAACO 2024 Annual Conference.

NAACO Canada-East Fall Roadshow

Christine Le
Member, NAACO Communications Committee
Ceremonies & Communication Coordinator, York University

Roadshow participants posing for a photo next to a balloon display at McMaster University’s Fall Convocation. Left to right: Claire Alexander, Brandy Hamilton, Melissa Tower, Rachel Concannon, Morgan Marini

This past fall, NAACO Canada-East region members had the opportunity to participate in a series of visits to ceremonies at other member institutions. Known as the NAACO Canada-East Roadshow, this initiative was started in 2019 by Rachel Huang, Regional Director, NAACO Canada-East and is a great opportunity for members to learn from one another. During the fall roadshow, five institutions took participants on a tour of their event site and gave them a behind the scenes look at how their ceremonies were run. Nine institutions participated and naturally, members were able to pick up a few new ideas and tips along the way!

“We always enjoy the opportunity to visit our colleagues’ ceremonies with hopes we see new and innovative ways to execute both behind the scenes and on-stage elements of a ceremony.” said Morgan Marini from the University of Guelph. Morgan has participated and hosted in the past and was particularly excited to visit McMaster University this time around to see how they set up their name display scanning stations. She was also inspired by the branded signage, photo-ops, and hooding process at McMaster. She noted “…all the PhD advisors left the stage to find their grad first before they all crossed the stage. We would like to introduce a similar approach for a smoother and shorter hooding process.”.

As hosts, Rachel Huang and the team at McMaster took participants on a behind-the scenes look at entrances, grad check-in, marshalling, procession spaces, designated areas, backstage, and diploma distribution. “I think the most popular things that we do that caught others’ eyes were: my signage hardware and my “event pouches” (fanny packs).” said Rachel, who shared all of her suppliers and sources with participants after the roadshow. Rachel was able to visit Fanshawe College as a part of the roadshow and was particularly interested in seeing how they operated ceremonies at a hockey arena, as her team is entertaining the idea of moving to a larger venue. “Seeing Fanshawe’s set up gave me a clear vision of how we can set up differently at our potential new venue.” Although McMaster already has some eye-catching photo ops, Rachel also loved Fanshawe’s photo ops because of their branding and various patterns.

Due to time constraints and distance, some participants were only able to make 1 or 2 visits. Joanne Sokolowski from Trent University was one of those people, but she was inspired to organize her own visit to an institution closer to her. Joanne’s advice: “I would absolutely do the roadshow again and I recommend it to all NAACO members! If you have a concentration of a few schools in one area, try to organize one – everyone will benefit!”. Some of her top takeaways were related to signage, student processes, and stage processes. She said, “Nothing truly gives a sense of another school’s ceremony like seeing it in person.”

Members who participated in the roadshow were able to take away many new ideas and best practices as well as spend some time connecting with each other. NAACO members are always eager to share stories and knowledge, so it is no surprise that the roadshow was successful in its goal to enable members learn from each other.

NAACO Member Spotlight

Heather Violett
Member, NAACO Communications Committee
Events Manager, Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts Global

Introducing Melissa Picher Kelly from the British Columbia Institute of Technology as our next Member Spotlight. Melissa is the Manager of Events and Experiential for Marketing and Communications at her institution. She has been planning commencement for over 20 years. Melissa has been a past NAACO Regional Director and Treasurer and is currently the Director-at-Large leading our Membership Committee.

What’s your best piece of advice for our NAACO community planning ceremonies and events?
Take time to define the primary objective for any event before beginning the event design process. At universities and post-secondary institutions, there are often multiple stakeholders with competing goals and motivation, so it’s imperative for a planner to work with all stakeholders to align and clarify objectives before creating the event experience. Take time to listen. Dig deep!

What is your favorite element or part of commencement day?
I love that moment just before the doors open to the convocation hall. The noisy families and guests are waiting in anticipation, clutching their bouquets, stuffies and signs, and getting ready to celebrate their loved ones, who will soon cross the stage. The excitement in the air is palpable and I love that surge of pride as they rush to get the best seat.

What do you like to do for fun when you are not planning events?
I love to cook and explore new cuisines. I really appreciate that my family of four are adventurous eaters, so they accept my attempts at new foods – the flops and the successes.

Tell us a personality trait of yours that helps you succeed in your role?
I am super curious and really need to know everything. As a kid, I was terrible with secrets and I would speed-read fiction to find out what would happen as fast as I could (actually, I still do). That curiosity drives me to research and develop new ideas and to consistently explore the why.

How did you get involved in NAACO originally?
When I first started planning graduation in higher education, NAACO didn’t exist. I left to explore other career areas but when I returned to the academic events sector, I was pleased to discover that my colleagues were active members of NAACO. And I saw excellent optimizations which had been discovered via NAACO. I wanted to learn more and quickly sought out ways to help. The committees, board members, and the general membership were all so welcoming. NAACO members really care about creating the right experience for the graduating students, their families, and the community.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure that gets you through the planning process?
During the hectic times, I survive on Diet Coke and Sour Patch Kids.

How do you manage you and your team’s personal wellness leading up to your events?
I try to stay active, walking or running to the office. I also meditate and try to maintain a 1:1 coffee to water ratio. The team will hear me say ‘the work isn’t going anywhere’ to remind them that it’s important to recharge following a particularly intense event by booking a day off for yourself.

Share your favorite NAACO benefit.
Hands down, it’s the networking on NAACO Connect. The fact that I can reach out across the country, across the continent, and ask other event producers in higher education for their good counsel and best solutions for a specific issue. I love the dialogue this inspires.

How do you stay motivated when the going gets tough?
I’m in this job because I love connecting people with ideas and creating moments that matter. The work we do has high expectations from leadership and grads, with no room for errors. Sometimes it’s sticky with emotional conversations, unexpected changes, or difficult decisions. I like the messiness as it’s a chance to be curious, lead with empathy and, hopefully, grow both professionally and as a human.

Share one question/topic that you’d love other members to provide suggestions or solutions for?
I would love to compare notes on how other institutions are recognizing student award recipients who are graduating. We have been working to create touch points for our award recipients to engage directly with donors, at small and large receptions, and I am interested to know what other schools are doing successfully.

What is something about you that might surprise people?
I swim in the ocean when I can. Although these days, in the Pacific Northwest, it’s more of a cold plunge. I love the bracing impact of the cold water in the early morning. This practice clears my head and sets me up for a better day.

How Are Your Resolutions?

Angela Ruff
Member, NAACO Communications Committee
Communications & Events Manager, Gonzaga University

An October 2023 Forbes article about setting New Years Resolutions revealed that setting goals associated with the new year remains common for Americans – mostly parents under 34 years of age. This information made me curious about where resolutions stand in my NAACO community, so I offer an overview of the most important resolutions for this year and why they seem so important. 

What are the most important resolutions?  Well, it depends upon who you ask: 

  • While the most popular American goal in 2023 was mental health according to a Forbes poll, physical health improvement took the lead for 2024 intentions, with financial concerns taking the second seat.  A YouGov poll from December 2023 shows, however, that Americans would be focused on saving money and fostering happiness as 2024 approached, with additional goals of eating healthier and exercising more as well.
  • Top Canadian resolutions were reported by online magazine Curiocity for fitness, smoking, drinking, and losing weight, according to an analysis of google trend data in December 2023 by  

No doubt sticking to resolutions relies upon many factors, but the Forbes article offers that the average resolution lasts just over three and a half months, and several other sources I reviewed suggested that only 8-10% of resolution goals are met.  

So, why do we do this to ourselves? People have been making annual goals and commitments for a long time. Medieval records show knights having a yearly ritual to restate their commitment and parishioners at worship services being led through prayers for promises of better behavior in the coming year. In modern times, we research such questions. Online magazine Scientific American shares from a study by behavioral scientists that temporal landmarks, like the start of a new year or a birthday, generate “fresh start” feelings that motivate us toward goals. These temporal landmarks structure our sense of time and prompt a review of gaps in our lives, where we get to confront the current state of immediate gratification behavior versus our desired future self.    

Stay the Course! If you did set resolutions, and thus far you have made it past the second Friday in January (aka “Quitter’s Day”) and “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day” on January 17, good for you!  If you follow the Forbes’ findings, the next typical run-out-of-steam date is about March 20. Apparently, June 1 is “New Year’s Resolution Recommitment Day” if putting it on your calendar might be of help.  

Workplaces often have campaigns, wellness activities, financial planning resources, and health system programs to help us become our best desired future selves. Professional life coaches will extol personalization, targets, measures, and developing accountability through reward systems or with a partner in the effort. 

There’s no standard formula for staying on track, but we do invite the NAACO community to support each other. Look for opportunities in the coming weeks to share with NAACO colleagues the resources and strategies that are working for you to keep those New Year’s goals alive.

Update from NAACO Headquarters 

Sara L. Wood
Executive Director, NAACO

Here on the NAACO staff, we have been hard at work getting ready for the upcoming conference in Fort Worth. I want to thank all the volunteers who have worked countless hours to make this event possible. Your colleagues curate everything from education to the event experience to bring you the best possible conference. While there, stop by the registration desk to say hello to your onsite staff. We are pleased to welcome a new member to the team, Jessica Martin, who has taken over as our sponsorship manager. Jessica has a seasoned background in sponsorship management and has taken over duties that Brandon Lawrence previously held. Join me in welcoming Jessica to the team! As always, if you need anything from the NAACO staff, please do not hesitate to contact us at

See you in Texas!

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